Redwoods and Righteousness

My neck still hurts from looking up, and my mind is still mulling over the spiritual lessons hidden in Redwood forests. After years of desiring to see these oldest of all living organisms on earth, the Lord was gracious to allow us to finally see them in real time. They did not disappoint nor did they fail to act as the straight and tall pointers their Creator intended them to be.

The Necessity of Fog

Redwood forests exist in only four locations in the world. Oddly enough, heavy fog is their critical success factor. These gentle giants require the dense, daily fog known as the Marine Layer to receive enough water to survive, gathering a shocking 40% of their required hydration from the fog.

As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I have acquired a natural distaste for the mental, spiritual, and emotional fogs that accompany them; however, the Redwoods were a sweet reminder that God does not waste pain and appoints each season appropriately for His good purposes. The very fogs of confusion and lack of clarity that I hate can be clouds of necessary provision for my soul. They teach me to depend upon Him and to walk by faith rather than sight.

As the famous hymn writer William Cowper so poetically wrote in God Moves in a Mysterious Way, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; / The clouds ye so much dread / Are big with mercy and shall break / In blessings on your head.”

An Indwelling Protector

Redwood trees have a strange, all-purpose protector, and it is not the Lorax. High concentrations of tannic acid act as anti-fungal pesticides and fire proofing for these tested survivors. While unseen, this internal protector enables Redwoods to survive the would-be catastrophic forest fires that are so common on the West Coast. While we were walking in their sufficient shade, it was not uncommon to see fire damage that ran upwards of twenty to thirty feet up the trunks of some Redwoods. However, the tannic acid concentrations enable them to withstand the incredible heat. As such, the older trees remain standing even after devastating forest fires.

As believers in Christ, we have a powerful, indwelling preserving agent in the Holy Spirit. Unseen, through clearly present, the Third Person of the Trinity provides divine empowerment and strengthening that enables believers to remain standing even through the countless trials that life on this broken globe affords. Christ never promised us lives of ease and comfort, but He did promise that all who rely upon Him will be preserved by the Holy Spirit who is the seal of our inheritance (see Ephesians 1:13 and John 16:33).

A Rooted Community

Mature Redwoods can grow upwards of three-hundred feet tall, which is taller than a 30-story building. For something so toweringly tall, these trees have shockingly shallow root systems (between 6 and 12 feet deep, which is proportionately small for such size). In fact, they do not even have a taproot. Rather, they have root networks that reach 100 feet on every side. Their roots intermingle with their neighboring Redwoods, creating an interlocking strength amongst them.

While believers are, indeed, called to be rooted in the Scriptures and the Word of God (see Psalm 1), we are also called to be inter-dependent upon others in the body of Christ. What we usually assume to be you (singular) commands through our individualistic, Western lens of reality are often y’all (plural) commands in the New Testament (see Ephesians 3:17 and James 5:13-16).

Fairy Rings

While we were walking through the forest floor, I kept waiting for a larger-than-life pinecone to fall on my head, causing a concussion (sounds dramatic, but some of us are gifted at catastrophic thinking). Shortly thereafter, we came to learn that the pinecones on these fellas are only olive-sized. They can afford such small pinecones because reproduction rarely happens through pinecones. Rather, mature Redwoods tend to sprout new saplings directly from the root systems. Thus, it is not uncommon to find what they call “Fairy Rings” in which a taller, more mature mother tree is surrounded by adolescent trees in a circle. Even after the mother tree dies, her buried root system can continue to sprout and reproduce.

While I am not saying believers spontaneously generate and propagate new believers in like manner, I do long for God to be able to use the crumbs from my walk with God to feed others. I long to leave a legacy of faith that I pass on to my children who pass it along similarly to their children (see 2 Timothy 1:4 and 3:15).

I am so thankful that creation can preach without a word the glories of its Creator (see Psalm 19). I am thankful that these gentle giants raise their branches pointing to the King of Righteousness. Being in their shadow makes me long to be a similar pointer, crooked though I may be!

Sifting In Silence

Nine months is a long time. Just ask my pregnant friends. They are many.

For nine months, Zechariah sat in silence, sifting and sorting the strange experiences that led up to that miraculous gestation.

Despite decades of faithfully serving God alongside his pious wife, the couple remained barren. As a priest, he spent his life ushering the concerns and needs of others into the presence of God; yet, it seems he struggled to believe that his own prayers were being ushered into God’s ears. He did not stop believing in God in general; but he seemed to struggle with God’s faithfulness specifically for a long-desired son.

How like Zechariah I often am, we often are! So often, while I say I believe God for the big things, I wrestle to trust him with the small, but deeply significant desires of my heart. I begin to operate on auto-pilot, doing the deeds of obedience but without the spirit of devotion and expectancy meant to accompany them.

Yet, the Lord sent an angel with news so incredible that it seemed too good to be true. Zechariah’s old heart was not sure it could handle another hope stirred only to become a hope deferred. He doubted, demanding a sign to strengthen his feeble faith.

The angel did not give him a sign, he prescribed something far better: a season of silence. The gift of time to sort and sift through his experiences with God throughout his life that were culminating in the incredible gift of an unexpected son.

I wrote this poem imagining that somehow Zechariah was alive when his set-apart son, John the Baptist was beheaded. He would have had another season of silence for sifting and sorting. Why would God allow this faithful servant to have such a violent and abrupt ending? Is that the way God rewards his faithful ones?

Yet, as Jesus said in his impromptu eulogy for his cousin John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6). God writes strange stories full of wonder for those who trust and love him. They have twists and turns none of us would imagine, yet each story is written in confident love.

Things are not as they seem. For another Set-Apart Son entered our story and changed everything. His horrific ending on a cross enabled the beginning of our living hope. He knows a thing or two about sifting and sorting our stories in silence. He sits with us as we wait, wonder, and wrestle. He will stir our silence into songs of praise. He will make all things beautiful in His time!

Zechariah’s Song

Oh my Lord, how can this be?
An aged two becoming three?
Years of prayer, seemingly unheard,
Answered with an angelic word?

A decade ago, I might’ve believed,
But now I fear I’m being deceived.
It seems too hard, too good, too late,
Faith these fears cannot abate.

In silence, then, I’ll sit and sift,
Nine months to receive this gift.
My flagging faith grows strong,
As silence stirs a brand new song.

“The Lord our God, blessed is he!
He comes to set his people free!
All His words are deeply reliable,
His graciousness is undeniable!

Oh my Lord, how can this be?
A set apart servant was he.
Your forerunner of gladness
Beheaded in a wish of madness.

In silence long again I’ll stay
Trusting you will make a way.
His story was yours to write;,
You rule with mercy and might.

Stories of wonder God does weave
For those who in Him believe.
Seasons of silence lead to song,
As to glory He leads them along.

The Relief of Resurrection

Relief comes in many shapes and sizes. Tired teachers sign off from Zoom calls with a satisfied fatigue on Fridays. College students nearly skip with levity and relief when they turn in finals and term papers. Families sigh in relief and smile in gratitude when results from biopsies come back negative. The entire Pacific Northwest danced with relief when rain fell to dissipate the heaviness of fire-filled air.

The nature of the burden and the length of time it has been borne appropriately shape the extent of corresponding relief when the burden has been finally lifted.

I am certain Noah waited with bated breath when he sent out the dove, hoping for signs of habitable earth after weeks of unprecedented flooding. When the dove came back bearing a branch, I imagine there were shouts of relief from the remnant of humanity who had been trapped with animals in a floating zoo. Abraham and Sarah laughed in relief when they finally held Isaac, their long-awaited, promised son. God’s people, long-accustomed to silence after the last words from the prophet Malachi, likely ran in relief to the shores of the Jordan to listen to John the Baptizer. Simeon and Anna, whose eyes were long-strained in search of the promised Messiah, looked upon Jesus through tears of relief.

But all of these moments of real relief pale in comparison to the relief of the resurrection. The Marys went to the tomb of their beloved Jesus despairing and helpless, convinced their hopes of Him being the Messiah were dashed. Despite the fact that he had healed and saved others, Jesus of Nazareth had not been healed, but harmed. The body of their beloved who had brought life and light wherever he went was sealed in a dark, dank tomb, along with their hopes.

All the collective moments of relief from all the heavy burdens of humanity ought to be like a feather in the scales compared to the relief of the resurrection. Death does not have the last word. The fear of death that had dogged the steps of humanity since Adam and Eve were ushered out of the garden Eden was lifted with the body of Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews so clearly stated to the Jewish believers, “through the power of death,” Jesus “delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The fuzzy, far-off promises of the prophet Isaiah, “He will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8) came into clear focus that morning when the grave clothes were folded and vacant.

Unfortunately, we tend to forget the relief that comes from the resurrection of Christ. The relief that is meant to enliven our every step toward glory and the levity of hope that is meant to lighten our souls in the most grave situations are lost on most of us. We are so focused on our present circumstances and the problems that weigh on us presently, that we tend to forget that our Christ has conquered death and risen up underneath it, lifting our burdens with himself.

We find ourselves looking forward to smaller sighs of relief like the weekend, the end of the election season, and an upcoming vacation, and it is right to enjoy these moments of rest. However, we don’t have to swim the seas of dread, waiting for tiny islands of relief. The rock solid reality of the resurrection is meant to be a bridge of relief that enables all of our days. The resurrected Christ who stood up from the tomb is meant to help us bear up under our own burdens.

I don’t know the exact burdens you carry today, but I know that they are heavy and hard. I know that we are a weary people in a weary land during a wearisome time. I know that it feels like the weights are crushing the ever-living life out of us. But that is not the end of the story. The resurrected and reigning Christ has given is the downpayment for the the coming day of great relief. With the psalmist we can say with confidence, “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NASB).

Seeing Through

Soul and sight are inextricably tied together. When my soul is rested and sated with my Savior, my eyes are full of light. They scan the physical topography of my life for the spiritual realities to which they were meant to point. 

On my best days, my eyes join my soul in looking for life from the Life-Giver who stands behind and underneath the realities of my life. Interruptions to my plans for the day can be seen as course corrections from a well-intended heavenly father. My children’s meltdowns can be seen as windows into their needs rather than weights to slow me down. 

Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. When my soul grows weary, my eyes tend to follow suit. They both give up on the hard work of looking through and begin looking at. 

Angry tears were welling in my eyes in carpool line. I felt put-upon and inconvenienced by circumstances that were out of my control. If I am honest, I felt angry with God. Angry that the days had not panned out in the ways I had carefully planned. Angry that choppy relationships seemed to be adding to an already-stormy season. Angry at the failures and foibles of others that reveal my own failures and foibles. After weeks of hard conversations and weighty circumstances, I found myself looking at circumstances and people rather than looking through them.

Seeing Through

My eyes and soul, that tired pair, had lost the ability to have a farther, deeper focus. They had stopped looking underneath and through circumstances and people and had settled for looking at them. Such sight is sure to end in disappointment and frustration, for our souls are made for a focal point far beyond this globe. Souls stilled by the gospel and lives anchored into His sure promises are able to look underneath and through circumstances back to the Savior.

Underneath that moment of disobedience is a boy who desperately needs to hear the gospel is true, not just in general, but specifically for him (see 1 John 1:9)

Underneath what feel like demands are deep needs and deep fears that are begging to be directed to a devoted Savior (Proverbs 20:5)

Underneath that angry social media post is a human heart swollen with a story needing to be heard (see James 1:19)

Underneath secondary causes is a loving Savior who is committed to my wholeness and sanctification as well as theirs (see Romans 8:28). 

Underneath the destruction of my paper-thin plans, there remains the immovable purposes of a good God. 

Seen Through

God, through His Spirt, His Word, and His people, invites me to see through because I have been seen through and yet loved. 

God has seen through my sad attempts at self-sufficiency, loving me enough to expose my utter insufficiency (see John 15:4). 

God has seen through my thick, complex walls of protection and has initiated to love the little girl who hides behind them (see Isaiah 25:12). 

God has seen through my attempts to boast in human knowledge and is slowly training me to let my only boast be understanding and knowing him (see Jeremiah 9:23-24). 

God has seen through my frantic need to have illusion of control and continually beckons me to trust Him as the blessed controller of all things (see 1 Timothy 6:15).

The reality is that I need to continually be seen through so that I might see through. I wish it were a one-and-done reality; however, God has seems to prefer an ongoing, relational dynamic with His children. 

When my eyes begin to look at rather than seeing through, my soul needs a fresh check-in with the Gentle Physician. When my focus becomes shortened, I need time to refocus on the One who sees me completely yet loves me fully. This will be my reality until that glorious day when my eyes can fully see the One whom fully sees me (see 1 John 3:2 & 1 Corinthians 13:12). 

On Secret Places

When the volume and pace of life get too loud for me, my soul starts to ache for my secret place. Almost subconsciously I find myself driving to Mission Trails, a vast regional park that provides wilderness in the midst of our city.

Even simply pulling in the parking lot, my heart begins to beat in excitement. Don’t be deceived: there is not much going on there. The landscape is mostly dry chaparral, cacti and dirt. The excitement comes from the promised lack of contrived excitement that my secret place promises.

When I go there, I know what to expect. The trees and trails don’t move. The water, which sometimes trickles and sometimes gushes with life, knows where to go. The rabbits, unconcerned with my concerns, go about their merry way.

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In The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck perfectly captures my sentiments about my secret place (not so secret now that you know; notice that I didn’t give you details).

“It is odd how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn’t thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It’s a safety place -everyone must have one…”

I find it interesting that the Psalmists often talk about God being their secret place. Inwardly I know that Mission Trails is only the outer shell of my secret place, the container. The substance of my secret place is My Savior, the self-existent one who made every seen and secret place in the universe.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Psalm 91:1-2

The Hebrew word translated shelter above comes from the root word sathar which means hidden, concealed, secret, hidden parts.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble, you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7. 

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind. In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:19-20.

These Psalms are merely a sampling of the cries of the soul for God to be the secret place, yet they remind us that we are not alone in our longings for the shelter, security, sameness of hidden places. We were made for them, just as surely as He knit us together in the secret places of our mother’s wombs.

I see this innate longing in my children as they seek secret nooks in our small home, create forts of blankets and pillows almost daily and request to be tucked in tightly into bed each night.

No matter what is happening in the circumstances of  life, the children of God have access to the secret place of the presence of the Lord through faith in Christ. The amazing thing about the secret shadow of His presence is that one need not drive to it or book a hotel or exotic vacation to find it. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have access to the secret place in the throes of life, in line at the grocery store, in carline and in the chaos.

My favorite part of my physical secret places is that they set me for the stillness that strengthens my spiritual secret places. Literally. There is a huge boulder that I sit under when the scorching San Diego sun and lack of shade trees has me sun-burnt and sighing.

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As I sit under my huge boulder, I cannot help but think of the renewing shade of Jesus, our Eternal Rock.

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Isaiah 32:2

Oh, how I hope you have a secret place; even more so, I pray you know the secret place of His presence.

 

To Find a Fire Poppy

As the West Coast deals with an unthinkable amount of devastating fires, my heart has been praying for fire poppies, both literal and figurative.

The California Poppy, our state flower, is rightly nicknamed the fire poppy because these brave little flowers are the first to push through charred ground after a wildfire. They are the first fruits of new life, floral harbingers of hope after the devastation of wildfires.

As you well know from the news, California experiences more than its fair share of wildfires. Hiking yesterday through the drought-ridden, crunchy chaparral of our regional park, there was ample evidence of burning. Charred branches, black ground, devastated landscapes. Bleak and black, the earth seemed so tired and barren.

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The trials of our lives, like raging wildfires, leave evidence long after the flames are snuffed out. Prolonged sickness, the death of a loved one, unemployment, stubborn seasons of depression, infertility or the myriad of other wildfires in our lives this side of Fall scar what used to be green places of life and vitality, leaving them much like the earth here in California.

Walking along what remains after trials in our hearts and lives, it is natural to feel hopeless, to remember with sadness the lush life that once was there. But, as is often true in the natural and spiritual realms, things are not as they seem. Much more is happening than the naked eye can gather. Fires, although devastating and dreary, leave nutrient rich soil and clear out space for life that would otherwise never thrive.

Life will emerge from the charred remains. The courageous little fire poppies, all naked and stalky will push their way through the crunchy crust. And when they come, the barren landscape will be the perfect backdrop in which to enjoy the welcomed pop of color, ironically the same color as the flames we once feared. Fire red.

IMG_6693After a prolonged season of trial and testing, the landscape of my life feels tired and sensitive. My heart’s habitat leaves much to be desired these days. Much of the green beauty that I love has been cleared out and it feels like only charcoal and soot remain. I truly am thankful, as I know that God clears away to recreate. I know the nutrients are there. I know that soon enough, when bounty returns, I will barely remember the burned earth.

But right now I am eagerly waiting and actively looking for the fire poppies. Every time a  strange stem of new life emerges, I celebrate. Little signs of life that I would normally never notice have become sources of profound peace in this post-burning season.

To my friends who feel like their souls are sensitive habitats of late, today is a good day to find a fire poppy. Happy hunting.

Overtaken

Deuteronomy reads like a father sharing his last bits of wisdom with his child before dropping them off at college. Moses, the faithful leader of God’s people, has led his wandering, often whining nation to the brink of the Promised Land. Knowing he won’t be entering with them, he prepares speeches laced with blessings and curses, reminding his beloved people to obey the Lord who had rescued them from Egypt and made them His chosen possession.

It is all too easy to read Deuteronomy through a moralistic lens. In fact, I found myself doing just that this week my studies led me to Deuteronomy 28 in which Moses begins another speech about the blessings of obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, and the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:1-6).

That is quite a laundry list of all-encompassing blessings. Moses uses powerful the powerful imagery of a wave of blessings overtaking, overcoming, and surrounding God’s people if they would only obey. The Hebrew word nasag literally means to reach, to overtake, or to catch. And this word is more than a mere word for Moses’ original audience. Remember, these are the children of the refugees who were almost utterly overtaken by the ensuing chariots of the strongest military in the then-known world. In fact, the exact same word is used to describe Pharaoh’s army catching up to God’s people as they were encamped by the Red Sea.

If only imaging a wave of blessings overtaking us were motivation enough to enable our obedience. However, both history and the human heart show ample evidence that Moses’ impassioned pleas were not enough to secure the obedience of God’s people.

The Christian worldview offers so much more than a list of blessings for those who obey and curses for those who don’t. Every other religion offers those. Karma promises that good will catch up to those doing good, while evil will catch up to those doing evil. Christianity alone offers a Savior who was overtaken with curses that we might be overtaken and surrounded by such abundant, undeserved blessing. Curses encompassed him so that blessing could encompass us.

Overtaken

A wave of curses,
Gathering strength
By human weakness,
Overtook the One
Who always obeyed
In total meekness.

The consequences and
Curses we earned
By hearts bent on self
Caught up to Him
Who ought inherit
All eternal wealth.

Evil overtook Him
Who hung cursed
Upon the tree;
Blessing overtakes
All who to Him
For hope flee.

Today I’m overtaken
By blessings from
The overtaken one.
Goodness catches
My sin-caught heart,
In love I am undone.

Inheriting the Wind (An American Empire)

When I hear the word empire, my mind immediately runs to historical Rome or China; however, something I read this week has had my mind and heart considering adding our nation to the mix.

While our nation began as a democratic republic with a shared, though often fought over, vision of the common good, some historians argue that sometime in the past fifty or so years, America made the shift from a republic to an empire.

In her address to a symposium of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Catholic worker and scholar Mary Jo Leddy said the following about a subtle shift that has taken place in our nation.

“Many historians will argue that the transformation of the republic to an empire has happened over the last fifty years. It has not been merely a transformation in size but in orientation as well. The republic was held together by an overarching common vision of a good and just society. It was an incredible political vision, which sought to balance the sometimes conflicting values of freedom and justice with a truly original political system.”

According to Leddy, after the Cold War, America no longer had a common, clear enemy which had been so clearly delineated through Communism. With the Fall of the Iron Curtain and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, our nation has desperately fought to define its new enemy. Leddy astutely claims, “Unless we reclaim some positive vision as a nation, we will be engaged in war upon war. A perpetual state of fear and conflict.”

She couples this fading of a common shared vision with a gradual decline in our nation, one that is not immediately obvious. She likens the slow disintegrating of our national empire to the gradual fall of another empire, Rome, after the attack of the Vandals in AD 410. While the Vandals did not succeed in destroying Rome, their attack altered the empire, which for the first time seemed mortal rather than eternal. Some historians say that 9/11 provided a similar moment for America. With the collapse of two iconic buildings and the unexpected attack which killed so many before the watching world, suddenly, the American empire seemed mortal.

While Rome left an indelible mark on modern history through its law, politics, architecture, and concept of citizenship, it is no longer the center of the known world. America seems to find herself in a similar place, fighting to hold on to her former central place .

Certainly, America still stands and has an incredible amount of influence and power; however, we find ourselves in tenuous times as a nation.

In-fighting and political partisanship have reached dangerous levels of vitriol and toxicity; it seems the only enemy we can identify are those other Americans who think differently, vote differently, or worship differently than we do.

While Leddy wisely pointed out the problem, her solution seemed lacking. According to her, Americans must reclaim a shared vision for the common good. While that sounds easy enough, without a clear standard of good and evil and right and wrong, both parties put themselves on the good side and their counterpart on the evil side.

This is exactly what is happening right now, as I write and as you read. Liberals are propagating their own version of good and evil through CNN while conservatives claim the exact opposite on Fox News. Without a straight edge by which to rule itself and others, our nation will remain in such a plight.

To our credit, this generation inherited a system that moved away from absolute truth hundreds of years ago. We followed the ways of Hume rather than the Rock from which we were hewn; we left the Scriptures as the standard of good and evil and opted for right and wrong which were intuited by feelings and common sense. However, we did not recognize that we had borrowed our ideals of justice and goodness from the foundations laid by biblical truths. Now we find ourselves experiencing the logical end of wrong presuppositions.

When feelings, experience, intuitions, and preferences guide our morality, we end up at loggerheads. After all, what happens when one person or party’s intuitions are at odds with another? We need not answer that question, we are living in it. Division. Strife. Hatred. A nation tearing itself down.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Our generation and our children’s generation are reaping what was sown hundreds of years ago. Now that we see the infected crop it has produced, we have the opportunity to plant something different for the coming generations.

“Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be the servant to the wise of heart.” Proverbs 11:29.

As a nation, we have many great questions to tackle. And many wiser than I are attempting to tackle many of them. However, my concern is that we are not starting asking the questions far enough back.

Will we trust in the wisdom of man and philosophies which start with man at the center, attempting to make sense of the world? Or will we trust in the wisdom of the God who stands outside of time as its caring Creator?

Dandelion Days

The closest thing we get to even the appearance of snow balls during San Diego winters are dandelion globes. I always smile when I see them growing, because they bring back childhood memories of playfully scattering their seeds. However, of late, I have a new reason to smile when I see them on my morning walks.

Recently, I slowly savored Elisabeth Elliot’s A Pathway Through Suffering. Each chapter began with a botanical example from Lilias Trotter. While I found them all to be challenging and beautiful, one in particular has stayed with me upon completion of the book.

“The seed vessel hopes for nothing again. It seeks only the opportunity of shedding itself; its purpose is fulfilled when the wind shakes forth the last seed, and the flower stalk is beaten low by autumn storms. It not only spends, but is ‘spent out’ at last.”

Trotter, a gifted writer and observer of nature, has painted seed dispersal in beautiful terms; yet, death to self is less poetic and more painful in actual practice.

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Lately, it has helped me to imagine my life as a field and each day its own individual dandelion globe (technically called blowballs or clocks).  The entire purpose of such a globe is to release its scores of individual seed fruits (technically called achenes). Thus, for the dandelion, losing its last threads of its self is technically winning. In dying to itself, it is fulfilling the very mission for which it so intricately exists: to scatter and shed abroad its seeds of life. Its death means the new life of countless more dandelion plants who, in time, will return the favor!

I tend to want to hold on to my time, my energy, my plan for the day, and my wishes and wants. After all, everything in my flesh agrees with everything the world and the Enemy of my soul feed me in every radio wave, internet connection and whispered lie. Hold on to your life. Protect your own. Treat your self. After all, who else will?

Yet, each day,  I am offered various experiences intended to help me die to myself that others might live.

To throw the baseball when all I want to do is text a friend. To absorb an angry email, offer the frustration up to Jesus, and to respond in gentleness and humility. To stop what I am focused on to listen to my husband process his day. To cook a meal even though I would rather read a book or take a walk.

Tiny deaths, but chances to practice dying to myself that others might receive life just the same.

For some reason, imagining another little seed parachuting off to plant life somewhere has helped me to see these tiny deaths to self as tiny victories rather than terrible inconveniences.

Death to self as one great, heroic act feels overwhelming and impossible to my self-centered soul. However, faithful daily dying to self that leads to a lifetime of self laid down for the sake of and by the power of a Savior’s love feels far more do-able to me.

Faithful daily dying leads to faithful final breath. May we let the light breezes or gale force winds of our days help us to let go of our lives, seed by seed. May we be able to confidently say with Paul, we are…

…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4: 10-12. 

A Tale of Two Brothers

Jacob and Esau entered the world engaged in conflict with one another. Their conflict escalated to involve their favoring parents and came to a climax in a cockamamie plot in which the younger swindled the blessing from the other. These brothers were dysfunctional long before modern psychology popularized that term.

At heart, their battle was birthed in a fear of scarcity and a desperate need to secure the blessing. While that might seem strange to us, we must understand that in their culture, the blessing meant everything: promise, security, approval, significance, land, and authority. Primogeniture secured these to the oldest child, but Jacob and Rachel, informed by a promise of God, but mislead by their own impatience and imperfections, would have it be otherwise.

When we think of these brothers, the scenes that rush to mind are a hand grabbing a  heal, a hairy mantle, a blind and befuddled father whose stomach took over, and someone pouting over soup; however, their tale did not end there. Genesis 33 gives us a snapshot of a powerful reconciliation and reunion between these two long-estranged brothers. We would do well to let their end overshadow their shady beginning.

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Scarcity & Abundance for Them

Their estrangement began with Jacob wisely fleeing for his life; after all, his brother was a great hunter and an incredible shot. I cannot imagine all the imaginary dialogues that happened in Jacob and Esau’s heads over the decades that followed. The regret, the anger,  the longing, and the questions posed.

Genesis 33 picks up with an aged and changed Jacob who has just had his epic and limp-inducing wrestle with the angel of the Lord. He is understandably anxious about meeting his brother for the first time since he fled as a young man many years before. He sends gifts and an entourage to prepare Esau for his coming and humbly prepares for the worst.

“He himself went on before them [his wives and children], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4). 

Two time- and experience-changed brothers weep and hug as they are reunited. They begin tear-filled introductions to previously unknown and unmet sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews.  Then conversation picks back up with Esau asking why all the pomp and circumstance.

“Esau said, ‘What do you mean by  all this company that I met?’  Jacob answered,  ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau answered, ‘I have enough, my brother.’ (Genesis 33:9). 

Then the sweetest sibling squabble of seeking to outdo one another in honor ensues. What a juxtaposition from their early squabbles over what they perceived to be a scarcity of blessing.

“Jacob said…’Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough’.” (Genesis 33:11). 

The brothers who had grown to hate one another out of fear of scarcity embrace, having finally recognized the abundance of their God.

That repeated phrase, “I have enough” stood out to me, especially considering the pair from which it was coming. As young brothers, they had fiercely fought over the blessing, thinking God was a God of scarcity. Yet,  here, as older men, they are fighting to confer the blessing on one another, having seen and experienced the abundance of their God.

Scarcity & Abundance for Us

While we may consider ourselves and our society far advanced from fights over stealing birthrights, the same battle out of scarcity ravages our society and our souls.

Parents paying to secure a spot for their children in prestigious universities. Companies, politicians, and news stations fighting for airspace in which to continue their colonization of the minds of the public. Political parties grasping at each other’s heels,  fighting for the seats of power.

The message is clear, sometimes even in the Church. There is not enough to go around. It is every man, woman, and child for him or herself. Grab and seize.

We have much to learn from the aged and experienced Jacob and Esau. After having spent their lives conniving and grasping, hoarding power and position, they realize they have enough.  If they began to recognize the abundant, superfluous nature of the love of God then, how much more might we recognize it, standing on the other side of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In Christ we have far more than enough. We have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (see Ephesians 1). We have been conferred with blessing upon blessing (see Psalm 103).

As we trudge forward in the political power war of scarcity in which we find ourselves, may we spend more time swimming in the abundance of Christ.